March 30, 2010

Students Get Food for Thought

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On March 18, Prof. Marion Nestle, nutrition, food science and public health, New York University, visited Cornell.  She spoke at the Cornell Center for Public Affairs Colloquium. Her talk, entitled “The Food Revolution: Implications for Public Policy,” addressed different issues, including food security, marketing, obesity and the food revolution. 

First lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move Campaign” and her recent speech to the Grocery Manufacturing Association continue to make Washington D.C. an exciting place for food.  In particular, the White House’s organic vegetable garden promotes eating local and fresh foods.

“Food insecurity” involves feeding healthy food to the general public despite the growing population.  In addition, it incorporates a variety of social issues.  Nestle pointed out that, since the 1980s, the prices of beer, butter and soda have decreased while the prices of fresh fruit and vegetables have increased. 

“The food environment needs to make healthy eating easier.”

In the early 1980s, individual Americans began eating more because new supplies of calories became available in the food supply.  Increased corn production began, receiving relatively more subsidies than previous crops. 

New marketing also developed to target younger audiences, pushing products solely for children. 

With increased numbers of women in the workforce, the demand for convenience rose, and the frequency of quick, less healthy options increased.

In his book, “Mindless Eating,” Prof. Brian Wansink, applied economics and management, describes how people underestimate the amount they eat when they possess larger portions.  The price and proximity of unhealthy food also increases the amount that buyers purchase. Low prices allow for these products to flourish. For example, at McDonalds, patrons may purchase five hamburgers for the price of one salad.

Food companies often deny claims that Americans require changes in their food.  The companies utilize lawsuits and fight back, making accurate but deceiving health claims. 

For example, often food companies place the American Heart Association’s stamp on products to describe the relative nutrition of food products.  However, this stamp ignores caloric and sugar quantities, and leads to false assumptions by customers. Companies establish their own “nutritional guidelines” so that their products will qualify.

Nestle spoke about problems in casual dining and the tendency to consolidate meals.  For example, offering three course meals for ten dollars promotes the consumption of large portions.  Nestle shared an experience with restaurants, like Applebees and T.G.I. Fridays.  She asked these restaurants to make healthy kids meals, to allow a price break for smaller portions, and to ceasing funding to the Center of Consumer Freedom. 

She explained, “They went ballistic! People go to their restaurants with purpose. Cheap food breeds this.”

According to Nestle, these food issues spawned a new social movement.  Unlike other social movement, this is bottom-up movement requires policy change in many areas: neighborhoods, schools, marketing, food safety, farms and Wall Street.

Original Author: Katerina Athanasiou